As its title suggests, Through My Enemy’s Eyes: Envisioning Reconciliation in Israel-Palestine, promotes empathy as the virtue necessary for peace. Called to love their enemy by their Messiah, Israeli Messianic Jews and Palestinian Christians are best suited to this task. The authors, Salim J. Munayer and Lisa Loden, a Palestinian Christian and an Israeli Messianic Jew, respectively, embody this effort to trade hostility for forgiveness.
The authors begin with a concise history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, arguing that injustices were committed by both sides. Ironically, Israelis and Palestinians have much in common: both groups feel persecuted, desire a safe homeland, and feel abandoned and betrayed by Western nations.
Munayer and Loden next examine how communal narratives perpetuate conflict. Such narratives are not unbiased, but rather selective, mythological retellings of historical events. The authors present both Israeli and Palestinian versions of the history of the region. Both versions are accurate in certain respects, while distorting the truth in others. Israeli accounts of Israel’s independence, for instance, typically fail to mention the thousands of Palestinians who were forced from their homes, while Palestinian narratives often neglect the ongoing presence of Jews in the Land in the centuries after the Romans sacked Jerusalem in 70 A.D. One key to reconciliation, then, is to be open to the corrective vision of another’s narrative. And beyond their separate narratives, Messianic Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Christians share a larger narrative of redemption and inclusion in the people of God.
After their insightful discussion of history and narrative, the authors sketch the contours of Palestinian Christianity and Israeli Messianic Judaism. Palestinian Christians, whose theology varies from evangelical Protestant to Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic forms, feel as passionate a connection to the Land as do many Jewish people. They take great pride in calling the ground on which their Messiah walked their home. For centuries, they have worked hard to maintain an identity that is both Arab and Christian in a land that was long ruled by Muslims.
Israeli Messianic Jews see themselves, both physically and spiritually, as direct descendants of Jesus’ first disciples. Some follow Torah as closely as possible, while others believe this to be unnecessary. Most, however, embrace Zionism in both its religious and political forms. Most Israeli Messianic Jews welcome the opportunity to serve in Israel’s Defense Force, but Palestinian Christians tend to be pacifists.
Because of its apparent connection to Zionism, Palestinian Christians often downplay the Old Testament in favor of focusing on Jesus’ teachings. Perceiving themselves as oppressed by a more powerful nation (Israel), Palestinian Christians see their own situation reflected in Jesus’ first-century context, in which the Romans controlled Judea.
Munayer and Loden then explore theological obstacles to reconciliation. Palestinian Christians conceive of themselves as chosen people insofar as they are members of the multi-ethnic, transnational body of believers, whereas Messianic Jews retain a view of the Jewish people as uniquely chosen by God. The authors argue that God’s choosing of the Jewish people does not imply their superiority, but rather reveals the unconditional love which God extends to all humanity in Jesus. While Palestinian Christians see themselves as stewards of holy sites like Bethlehem and Nazareth, Messianic Jews believe it is God’s will that they inhabit the Land.
The most pivotal issue revolves around justice: Palestinian Christians seek liberation from Israel’s control; focusing on the eschatological promise of their return to the Land, many Messianic Jews neglect biblical demands for justice for the oppressed (Palestinians). The authors argue that truly biblical justice is both retributive and restorative; it both punishes sin and shows mercy to the vulnerable.
If theological differences divide, then a shared theology of reconciliation can unite—because Jesus reconciled humanity with God. His incarnation united human nature and divine nature. His crucifixion atoned for sin and tore down the barrier between Jew and Gentile. His resurrection conquered death, enabling believers to experience new life in the Spirit. As Jesus suffered for the sins of humanity, so Messianic Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Christians must be willing to suffer for each other. By founding their identity on Jesus, they can cultivate the empathy necessary for reconciliation.
Josh Cohen is a Jewish believer in Jesus, pursuing his PhD in English at Emory University.